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Nancy B’s Guide to the Perfect… Biscuits

Bake Off 2014 winner Nancy B shares her five top tips for baking success…

I have to admit that before Bake Off I made very few biscuits, because the supermarket shelves are packed with them. But, once you make biscuits yourself you realise how simple it is, that they’re cheaper than the shop bought version and certainly more versatile (e.g. you can make a biscuit house!) Plus, most importantly, they taste delicious.

New twist on a retro classic: The Celery Salt Thins

I regularly make biscuits for cheese because they are always a talking point after a meal. Friends are especially impressed with my simple Celery Salt Thins. These delicious, crisp biscuits are a real hit – and the not-so-secret ingredient is the celery salt. Just a pinch added with the flour lifts the flavour to a level far superior to anything in the supermarket. Serve with cheese for the perfect end to a delicious meal, or enjoy as a snack.

Style: The Medal Biscuits

With so many biscuit cutters on the market these days, you can have great fun cutting and decorating biscuits for different festivals. I remember visiting a Christmas market in France one year and seeing delicately decorated biscuits hung on bright red ribbons in the window of a small patisserie. The ribbons were all different lengths and the effect was magical. I copied the idea and hung my biscuits on the Christmas tree on Christmas morning for the children and grandchildren. One tip for making your biscuits look neat, uniform and professional is to chill them for about 15 minutes prior to baking – I find this helps to keep their shape when baking.

Inspiration: The Healthier Biscuit

So many times people have said to me that they love to bake but feel it is bad for them: too much sugar, too much fat etc. I understand their dilemma but the beauty of making biscuits is that they generally keep well in a tin for up to two weeks. As well as biscuits for cheese I regularly make garibaldi biscuits, which contain hardly any fat at all – about 1 gram per biscuit! I am often asked about gluten-free baking too and a gluten-free biscuit is easy to achieve by substituting gluten-free flour, cornflour or polenta for the flour in the recipe.

Common problem: The Troublesome Biscuit

Dough I always make biscuits by hand as I feel a processor can over mix the dough, which can result in a tough biscuit. Plus biscuit-making methods vary: a brandy-snap dough is encouraged to spread and bubble in the oven, whereas a rubbed-in biscuit dough needs to keep to shape. I remember the first time I made a batch of lemon biscuits; when I opened the oven door I had one large one biscuit – everything had merged together. They tasted ok but what a disaster! My advice is to keep the biscuit dough a little on the dry side, but not so dry that it is crumbly. And follow the time on the recipe: biscuits may seem quite soft as they come out of the oven but they will crisp up as they cool. Keep an eye on them too, as biscuits bake quickly and can soon burn.

Technique: The Child-Friendly Biscuit

My Bake Off win has resulted in invitations to take part in all sort of baking related events, including judging, demonstrating, teaching, after-dinner speaking, writing and entertaining. But some of my most memorable moments have been going into schools and engaging with children. I remember in particular baking with a class of 30 primary school children and what a joy they were! We had little in the way of equipment so I took along 250g butter, 125g caster sugar, 300g self raising flour and a few drops of vanilla extract. I divided the children into small teams and each group made their mixture in a small bowl, then used my scales to weigh themselves a little ball of dough weighing 20g. These balls of dough were lovingly transferred to a baking sheet, squashed down with the back of a fork, then baked in the school oven for 10 minutes at 180C. The children piped their finished creations with coloured icing (some better than others!) but the joy on their faces will remain with me forever. Baking doesn’t get easier than this and each biscuit was eaten immediately.

@nancybbakes won Great British Bake Off 2014. Since then she’s travelled from Cornwall to The Shetland Isles, baking and entertaining fans.

Learn more about her food and her travels on her blog.